By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette — Joe Mihalich saw it Thursday morning.
"It started there," he said. "Bad walk-through. Guys were too casual, too nonchalant, no mental focus, no intensity."
Juan'ya Green noticed it in warmups.
"We didn't have good flow," he said. "We weren't warming up as hard as we should."
The malaise carried over into the Niagara Purple Eagles' eventual 68-59 loss to Rider at the Gallagher Center.
And now, Niagara no longer controls its destiny in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title race.
"You get what you deserve," Mihalich said. "We didn't deserve to win."
Niagara (17-12, 12-5) still holds a half-game lead over Loyola in the MAAC standings. The defending champions play at Iona tonight and host Manhattan on Sunday. Niagara wraps up the regular season at home Saturday against last-place Saint Peter's, which lost in overtime Thursday night at Canisius.
"We've got a big game here on Saturday and we'll just see if we can't play the right way," Mihalich. "I know I can't wait to play again and get this taste out of my mouth. And I know Juan'ya feels the same way."
Green was the only Purple Eagle who played well enough to win Thursday, scoring 27 points, 15 in the second half.
Leading scorer Antoine Mason shot 1 for 12 from the field and turned the ball over six times. Marvin Jordan was 0 for 4 with two turnovers in 24 minutes off the bench. Starters Tahjere McCall and Devon White were saddled with foul trouble the whole game. White wound up getting ejected after a flagrant foul with 8:50 remaining. T.J. Cline (three points, one rebound, five fouls) was a non-factor. Ameen Tanksley and Joe Thomas combined for 14 points on 60 percent shooting and 16 rebounds, but Mihalich was not impressed with their play against Rider big man Daniel Stewart (14 points, 14 rebounds).
"He was tougher than us and wanted to score more than we wanted to stop him," Mihalich said.
Niagara built its largest lead, 26-19, on a Thomas putback with 5:03 left in the first half, but the Broncs (17-13, 11-6) closed the half on a 9-0 run.
Green scored on a drive to put Niagara in front 44-42 with 11:47 to play. Rider then went on a 15-1 run over the next four minutes that included a technical foul on Mason and White's ejection.
"We started talking to each other and got frustrated with each other," Green said. "It shouldn't have got that way."
Green hit a 3-pointer to make it 63-59 with 1:31 left, but Niagara didn't get off another shot until the game was out of reach.
"It starts with the coaching," Mihalich said. "We didn't do a great job helping these guys out enough with some stuff to do. They surprised us a bit with a couple things they did defensively."
Even the lack of effort at shootaround, Mihalich said, was a coaching error.
"It all starts with me," he said. "I should've done something."